The electrostatic energy profile of one, two, or three ions in an aqueous channel through a lipid membrane is calculated. It is shown that the previous solution to this problem (based on the assumption that the channel is infinitely long) significantly overestimates the electrostatic energy barrier. For example, for a 3-A radius pore, the energy is 16 kT for the infinite channel and 6.7 kT for an ion in the center of a channel 25 A long. The energy as a function of the position of the ion is also determined. With this energy profile, the rate of crossing the membrane (using the Nernst-Planck equation) was estimated and found to be compatible with the maximum conductance observed for the gramicidin A channel. The total electrostatic energy (as a function of position) required to place two or three ions in the channel is also calculated. The electrostatic interaction is small for two ions at opposite ends of the channel and large for any positioning of the three ions. Finally, the gradient through the channel of an applied potential is calculated. The solution to these problems is based on solving an equivalent problem in which an appropriate surface charge is placed on the boundary between the lipid and aqueous regions. The magnitude of the surface charge is obtained from the numerical solution for a system of coupled integral equations.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
I wish to thank Dr. Ted A. Wilson and Dr. John P. Moran for their helpful advice. This research was supported by grants from the Minnesota Medical Foundation and the University of Minnesota Computer Center. Receivedforpublication 29July 1977andin revisedform 21 December1977.